Arts & Events

Young People’s Orchestra Performs Spring Concert

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday May 07, 2009 - 06:27:00 PM

Young People’s Symphony Orchestra, founded 74 years ago in Berkeley, will perform its spring concert this Saturday at First Congregational Church. The orchestra, celebrating conductor David Ramadanoff’s 20th season at the helm, will perform Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo, Indiana composer Jim Beckel’s Musica Mobilis for Brass Choir, and selections from Prokofiev’s Rome and Juliet Suites I and II. 

The 8 p.m. performance will be preceded by a silent auction at 6:30 p.m. to benefit the YPSO scholarship fund for new members, who will audition by appointment May 19 and 21 at Crowden School. 

Cellist Bonnie Hampton is Berkeley born and raised. Her mother, Clarabelle Bell, inspired the founding of YPSO after returning from a trip to Oregon, where she heard the Portland Youth Philharmonic—then the only orchestra of its kind in the country—and suggested to her violin teacher, Jessica Marcelli, that Marcelli form a similar group. Bonnie later became principal cellist with YPSO, and has played the Schelomo with the orchestra twice before, commenting, “I am amazed at what David [Ramadanoff] has done with them over the years.” Hampton has taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Mills College, UC Berkeley and Stanford, is a founding member of the Francisco Trio, has appeared as guest artist with the Budapest String Quartet, and currently is on the faculty of the Juilliard School. 

Ernest Bloch, Swiss born and educated, but an American citizen the last 35 years of his life, taught at UC Berkeley (where an annual lecture series is named in his honor) and directed the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from 1925 to 1930. He composed the Schelomo, a rhapsody between a concerto and a symponic poem, in 1915, during World War I, drawing on “a kind of troubled solace” he found in the Book of Ecclesiastes (often ascribed to Solomon) and Jewish themes. “One may imagine that the voice of the cello is the voice of King Solomon,” said Block, “the orchestra the voice of his age ... his world ... his experience ... the orchestra seems to reflect his thoughts as the solo cello voices his words,” alternately singing, declaiming and lamenting against the combination of “charged color and powerful climaxes” of the orchestra. 

Jim Beckel, a trombonist with the Indiana Symphony who teaches music at DePauw University, was commissioned to write Musica Mobilis by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1996. The piece, written for brass choir, was inspired by Calder’s Five Pieces Suspended, the music centering on five basic notes, “while simultaneously setting them all in motion.” (An audio sample can be heard at 

Prokofiev’s beloved Rome and Juliet Suites were originally written as a ballet for the Bolshoi in 1935. It became popular after the Bolshoi rejected them as undanceable. “Hearing musicians in their teens playing it is something special,” said Wendy Howe of YPSO. “The theme, the story are so youthful; there’s a freshness to their spin on it. It’s really lovely to hear.” 

YPSO is the oldest youth orchestra in California and the second oldest in the nation. Its 103 young players range in age from 12 to 19 and hail from 31 Bay area cities in five counties, many from Berkeley. 




8 p.m. concert (preceded by 6:30 p.m. silent auction), Saturday, May 9 at First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. $15 general; $12 students and seniors. 849-9776.